Monday, July 4, 2016

Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town is famously known as the institution where the world’s first human heart transplant took place. It is also where Andrew Phumlize Lulama Marion Mnweba was born on 21 October 1973. Sadly, the transplant patient passed away from pneumonia 18 days after the operation. Andrew on the other hand is very much alive and working as the General Manager at GOLD Restaurant (link to restaurant website home page).

Growing up in the townships in Cape Town

When asked about what he was most afraid of as a child, he says, “nothing”. The dynamics of “growing up in a township make you strong. You see things you couldn’t possibly imagine would happen”. And that’s just it. It really is impossible to imagine a life within an informal township settlement unless you’ve lived there. That said, if you look beyond the poverty and the dilapidated corrugated dwellings typical of an informal settlement you will encounter what some people refer to as the real South Africa, the resilient beating heart of the nation.

A heart of gold and spine of steel

Andrew’s father was a driver at a factory and his mother worked at a hospital as a nurse’s assistant. It was the way of things in apartheid South Africa. Skilled employment opportunities for black South Africans were limited but this didn’t muffle Andrew’s ambition or his mother’s belief in her children. 

When Andrew was 10 his parents divorced. From then on Andrew and his sister had infrequent contact with their father, sometimes visiting him once or twice in a month. His mother’s relatives took them in and they survived on their mother’s love and strength, and her single parent income.

He says, “whenever things go bad in my life, I always remember where I come from, the things she did for us as children, alone, without support from my father. Then I know. Whatever it is. It will pass”.

Rising discontent in 1980s South Africa

Discontent was rife in the 1980s. Anti-apartheid uprisings were on the increase. More and more school going children were taking to the streets to defend their right to equal education. While not immune to the struggle, Andrew made a conscious decision to fight for change through learning. He says, “we believed that through education our minds could be liberated” and so too would the country be liberated, and that “ we would need to produce quality leaders”.

It takes courage to grow up

In 1985 they moved to Kayelitsha township. Andrew attended Luhlaza Senior Secondary School. In spite of an inferior ‘Bantu’ education system often lacking in basic resources and facilities, Andrew worked hard. He and his classmates achieved a 94% matric pass rate, a gargantuan achievement under repressive circumstances.

While still at school Andrew met coach Chris. Like everything else at the time sport in South Africa was racially segregated. The three main sports were, and still are, rugby, cricket and soccer. While soccer was played by the black majority in the townships and rural areas rugby and cricket were associated with whites.

Chris introduced Andrew to cricket and tennis and Andrew spent his weekends bowling and batting or striking tennis balls. Andrew in turn was one of the first to introduce sport to his school and became cricket captain. He also spent time with friends listening to Afropop music mostly Brenda Fassie, and trying to look fashionably cool as typical teens do.

Living with possibility

Under apartheid job opportunities were prescribed in favour of the white minority. Andrew was aware of the expectation that statistically he should settle for becoming a labourer, miner, domestic worker or perhaps a more skilled position (albeit lower paid than his white counterparts) as a nurse, social worker, teacher or even a lawyer, Regardless, Andrew was hopeful. In fact, he initially wanted to study law but there was no money to further his studies.

Still - and he credits his mother with this - he believed that opportunity would present itself. He says, “my greatest hope is to live life to the fullest with no regrets. My greatest fear would be to be presented with an opportunity and not to make use of it”.

Success starts with hard work

After school Andrew worked small jobs. In 2000 he joined Fedics at Grandwest Casino and Entertainment World, part of the Sun International Group. He completed a three-month hospitality course and started his career in the industry as a waiter. In a short space of time he was working on a rotation schedule for the Quarterdeck Restaurant and Salon Privé.

In 2002 he was selected to attend a skills building supervisory programme. While on leave he heard about interviews being held for internship opportunities for people on the supervisory programme in the broader Fedics Group.

Somewhere beyond the sea

Fedics supported a feeding scheme, whereby leftover food from the Quarterdeck Restaurant and Salon Privé was supplied to Christel House, a children’s school in Cape Town. The school is part of the global Christel Group children’s charity founded by a billionaire from the United States.

The Christel Group had a hospitality academy, from which only five participants were selected for one-year internships in the United States. Andrew was one of them and in December 2002 he embarked on his first trip out of the Cape and out of the country en route to South Carolina.

In the heart of Low Country

Arriving at the prestigious private Belfair Golf Estate on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, Andrew didn’t really know what to expect. He says, “the transition to the United States was an eye opener. The people with whom I interacted were generally unaware of what goes on outside of their borders”.

In spite of finding himself in a foreign country with no family or friends, right from the beginning Andrew decided to immerse himself in the experience and to embrace it as a career, cultural learning, and personal growth opportunity. He worked during the day and studied at night. He worked as a hospitality supervisor at Belfair for six months and then having moved on to the Holiday Inn Oceanfront for the remainder of his internship returned to South Africa in November 2003.

Back in the land of his birth

From 2004 to 2009 Andrew worked at Moyo at the popular Stellenbosch franchise. He started as front of house manager and observed and learned all the finer details of running a successful large establishment. In February 2009 he was transferred to Moyo in Durban where he worked as assistant general manager. He says, “In my career I have always aligned myself with people from whom I can learn, managers with similar values, bosses that don’t spoon feed, leaders that allow me to research and find things out for myself”. By 2010 Andrew was general manager.

In 2013 he resigned citing personal family reasons and homesickness as the main factors for his decision. Prior to resigning he had discussed with his directors the possibility of something being available for him within the Moyo business in the Cape but there were no opportunities at his level at that stage.

Panning for GOLD

Andrew took on a management position in a restaurant chain, which didn’t work out in spite of his efforts to boost morale and make necessary changes. He then worked on contract for a well known hotel chain, which promised to make him permanent, a commitment that never materialised. In December 2014, while still on contract, Andrew and his wife started a small cleaning business, which took off and is still in operation today.

In 2015 GOLD Restaurant advertised a general manager vacancy. Andrew applied, became the new general manager and started work on 26 October 2015.

What makes a GOLD experience unforgettable

People are hungry for unique dining experiences and they expect good service. GOLD provides this but there’s something very special about the way in which guests are treated. Andrew says that the staff dress the same but it’s not the uniforms that make them a team. It’s the way they behave towards one another.

He says co-owner, “Cindy has a passion for business, for Africa and the people who work here, and it shows. She’s an inspiration to all of us. Our people come from all over Africa they are proud to be African. Being here at GOLD is like becoming part of a unified family. As Africans, GOLD is home. 

In fact, there are people working at GOLD who have been there from the beginning. Guests know that recognisable, friendly faces will be there when they return.

Why GOLD has a handwashing ceremony

Andrew explains that in Africa there’s a story behind everything. This includes GOLD’s pre-dinner handwashing ceremony. He says, “back in the day Africa comprised of villages. People would travel from one village to the next on horseback or on foot. When they arrived at their destination they would be welcomed with a bowl of warm water to wash their feet. The restaurant cannot wash people’s feet so we use the handwashing ceremony as a gesture of warm welcome to our guests”. 

Happiest and saddest memories and the road ahead

Happy memories are much easier to talk about and Andrew smiles when he talks about his two children and the fact that he and his wife have been together for twenty years. His saddest memory is when his father past away. It left an unhealed void in his life.

Still, Andrew has learnt not to dwell on things. He says that if he had his life over again he wouldn’t change anything except spend more precious time with his family. He maintains that where you come from, your environment, family, the people you meet, and life experiences shape who you are. It’s important never to look down on yourself and to look at obstacles as challenges. He says, “obstacles excite me. I get ignited. There’s always something new for me to overcome”.

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